Various industries across the globe are putting hi-tech gaming software towards some surprisingly productive uses
In February, it was reported that surgeons who played games on the Nintendo Wii console were more skilled at performing keyhole surgery operations. The Play to Become a Surgeon study by researchers at the University of Rome saw resident surgeons playing on the console for an hour a day for a month. The result was an improved accuracy in their procedures: up to 65 percent more accurate than doctors who undertook only conventional training. The skills used to carry out keyhole surgery are similar to those exercised when using the Wii: hand-eye coordination, movement precision, depth perception and 3D spatial visualisation when focusing on 2D on-screen images.
Dr Gregorio Patrizi, who led the study, said: “We hope this may be a trigger to develop dedicated software aimed to help young surgeons as the economic impact of these consoles is significantly lower than traditional laparoscopic [keyhole surgery] simulators and they provide a basic didactic value. The Nintendo Wii might be a helpful, inexpensive and entertaining part of the training of young laparoscopists, in addition to a standard surgical education based on simulators and the operating room.”
Call of duty
A field-medic simulator called Simulation Technology Applied to Trauma Care is a video game that enacts real-world battle scenarios in which doctors and medics must attend to a fallen soldier. The virtual patient exhibits the vital signs of heartbeat and blood pressure in response to treatment, providing medics with a realistic environment in which they can practice performing under pressure. More advanced medical simulators are also available, including a biofeedback mannequin that will become more ill if the doctor makes a mistake. Similar models have also been used to explore the functions of smart implantable pumps to treat brain tumours.
The military also uses video game-based software to aid training. The US Army is currently utilising the Dismounted Soldier Training System (DSTS) as a virtual tool for soldiers of the 157th Infantry Brigade at Camp Atterbury Joint Manoeuver Training Centre. The system operates in a warehouse, where soldiers gear up with flip-down goggle mounts, have sensors strapped to their arms and legs, and carry computer-enhanced weapon systems. Each soldier stands on a 4ft diameter pad in the centre of a 10ft2 training area, from which they can see and hear the virtual environment and communicate with members of their squad using a helmet-mounted display with headphones and microphones.
The skills used to carry out laparoscopies are similar to those exercised when using the Wii
DSTS operator Matthew Roell said: “A soldier uses his body to perform manoeuvres, such as walking or throwing a hand grenade, by physically making those actions. The sensors capture the soldier’s movements and those movements are translated to control the soldierís avatar within the simulation. This simulation training is the future of training. The DSTS allows a soldier to wear the simulation instead of sitting inside of a simulator.”
Sgt First Class Aaron Hammond, Operations, 157th Infantry Brigade said: “It’s our job to train soldiers at the lowest level. The DSTS gives leaders and squads a chance to really look at their tactics, techniques and procedures in a safe, but realistic environment. It does not replace training, but it can add to it. We can bring the terrain of Afghanistan to the soldier.”
Rise of flight
Simulated environments also aid preliminary training in the shipping industry. Approximately 80 percent of all accidents and incidents occurring in ship operations are caused by ship management errors, communication failure and lack of skill. Practice with full mission ship simulators is thus of vital importance. While simulation training is not a substitute for the experience of training on an actual vessel, it is an effective preliminary method to thoroughly familiarise students with equipment, procedures and processes.
Similarly, in the aviation industry, flight simulators train pilots and flight crew for both civil and military aircraft and can even be used to train maintenance engineers. Much like military training simulators, flight simulators provide a safe environment in which to learn skills relating to dangerous real-life situations, such as extreme weather, systems failures or even hijack scenarios. There are currently around 900 full-flight simulators in the world, owned by aeroplane manufacturers, airlines and specialist training companies.
Airbus‘ Senior Director of Flight Crew Training Policy David Owens said: “The simulator is an extraordinary piece of technology. It has the ability to recreate, as far as the pilot’s concerned, total reality. Every aspect of flying an aeroplane is recreated here.”
“Globally, the aviation industry is forecasting unprecedented growth,” he added, referring to projections that there will be a need for a worldwide fleet of 40,000 jets, double what currently exists, by 2032. Demand for simulators is therefore set to remain strong, as full-flight simulators play a vital role in supporting the pilots needed to fly the growing global fleet. Owens said: “Currently, we squeeze maximum use out of our simulators. We use them 24/7, more or less, 365 days a year.” It is no wonder then that manufacturers are churning out as many full-flight simulators as they possibly can.
On a consumer level, people can turn their computers into virtual aeroplanes using software such as Microsoft Flight Simulator. Popular consumer games at the forefront of the industry are predominantly action role-playing shooters like Gears of War and Mass Effect. Both were developed by Epic Games’ Unreal Engine (UE3); a game engine that uses Unreal Development Kit (UDK) software to build virtual scenery.
The software now not only designs gaming scenery, but real-world buildings too. American architectural firm HKS used UDK when constructing the Dallas Cowboys Stadium, completed in 2009, to create a 3D visualisation of the world’s largest domed stadium and allow clients to view the final structure. HKS has now developed custom tools that allow its in-house team to translate the 3D models of its building projects seamlessly into the UE3 world, getting the textures and lighting perfect.
HKS’ Manager of Advanced Technologies Pat Carmicheal said: “The order of magnitude that Unreal opens up to us as architects is phenomenal. Architects want every detail in the building to be as accurately acute as the real environment as possible. There are thousands of surfaces in a typical building that we do, especially with the scale of buildings that HKS does. We have to have a lot of different texture surfaces simulated in these environments and it’s a lot of work.”
Tim Sweeney, founder and CEO of Epic Games, sees strong potential in the use of multi-core processors to carry out individual graphics-related tasks. Parallel operations can be used to strengthen artificial intelligence, perform physics calculations and execute programmable special-purpose functions that can improve game realism and responsiveness. Such developments may prove to be of great benefit to companies like HKS as more industries explore the potential non-game uses of video game software.